Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Height: 66.000 cm
Purchased with the Christy Fund (26 February 1886)
Room 24: Living and Dying
Kolam dancer's mask
From Sri Lanka, 19th century AD
The Serpent Demon
Kolam is a dance drama of rural Sri Lanka. Just like several other names for theatre traditions of south Asia, kolam refers to disguise and mimicry. The actors wear masks and costumes and perform with mime, dance and some dialogue. The characters are divided into several types: humans (for example, princes, the drummer and his wife, the European), animals and demons, and the performances move from the depiction of village scenes to stories involving spirits and fabulous creatures from Hindu mythology.
The Serpent Demon is a fierce character representing the evil power of snake poisons that can destroy human and animal life. The figure can be recognized partly by the presence of the cobras coiling to form a crown around its head and the snakes that emerge from its nostrils. There are several species of poisonous snakes in Sri Lanka; the cobra in particular is often depicted on demon masks that are used by dancers in rituals to expel evil from the body of a patient.
O. Pertold, Ceremonial dances of the Sinha (Tisara Prakasakayo Ltd., 1973)
A. Loriconi, Masks and exorcisms of Sri Lan, exh. cat. (I'lle du Demon, 4-31 December 1981)
J. Brow, Demons and development: the st (University of Arizona Press, 1996)